Wouldn’t it be nice if the world was made up only of people who are just like us, who like us, and who think exactly the way we do?
Well, no. Because (1) we’d be wasting iconic truisms like “opposites attract,” and (2) it would be monumentally boring, and (3) it would be just plain un-American.
Anyone in a leadership position ought to have as a goal–especially here in the U.S. with our national holiday coming up–to be an instrument of unity, not division. And the reality is, we here in the United States are very far from united as a country. Our “team spirit” is in trouble.
Our challenge as citizens is to find ways to understand and work things out with people we don’t agree with–people who may be very different from ourselves. Here are three commitments you should make to do just that, helping not only to create a united workplace but also a united country.
Accept that people have differences. The fact that they may not be just like you does not make them wrong.
Think about how many competing ideas and strong leaders the Founding Fathers had to bring together. As Ben Franklin put it, “We must, indeed, all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately.” On a less graphic level, that’s what we do as business leaders every day.
Think about how our country stuck together after the Civil War, despite enormous differences that led to taking up arms, and striving to rebuild “with malice toward none; with charity for all,” in Lincoln’s words. Never take that for granted, and use that as your model.
Those of us in leadership roles are intimately familiar with how un-alike people can be. Of course, we want what’s good for the enterprise (corporation, organization, project), and that means we need to build teamwork and group unity.
But if we’re dealing with a bunch of different ages, races, genders, personality types, and personal agendas–and wildly different political affiliations these days–how do we make it work? That’s why businesses need leaders. This is not an autopilot situation, nor should it be. Roll up your sleeves and become the collaborator and example you want others to be.
Support those who need it the most, because the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
Along the way, leaders come across “land mines“–people who can’t handle change, who take out their personal unhappiness on the group, who rub each other the wrong way and need to be handled; even those who are unable to just keep up with the program.
Find ways to give extra attention to those who need it, pull attention away from those who shouldn’t be encouraged in their negativity, and reward team spirit so it becomes the common theme. It’s a matter of knowing the whole is greater and better than the sum of its parts, even when the parts are a little mismatched and don’t seem to fit together.
Realize that the best results come when your love of others is genuine.
Work things out with people (that means listening to them) in a spirit of love and understanding, even–especially–when it’s really hard. You’re not only being a force for unity and understanding because it’s profitable. It’s also because you care. If you don’t, stop calling yourself a leader.
But why do you care? Why do you truly, deeply want people to understand one another? Sure, you want the business to run smoothly and not get sidetracked by endless emotional drama.
But also because it’s the right thing to do. Read my article about a “culture of love” in the workplace, in which I tell the story of a Florida shipping company that chose to help a customer in dire straits, just because it was right. That’s the spirit to strive for.
There’s no better time than now to reflect on what it means to be an American and what we are called upon to do in relation to our fellow citizens. As I described in my book Greater Than Yourself, “This isn’t about your position or title, it’s about your human being-ness.”
Think about your children or family members and the unconditional love you feel for them. Now challenge yourself to apply that same spirit of acceptance and love to people who do not look or act like you.
A commitment to unity will make your business soar; it will make our country work better. And that’s the flag we all want to fly all year round.